Q: Ken, you've been doing the Cinema Wasteland Expo for ten years now, 16 shows. What made you decide to start your own show to begin with? Were you getting sick of other conventions out there that were too big or too lame?
I started doing conventions as a vendor in 1987. At the time, there were no"horror conventions" as we know them today. There were the occasional Famous Monsters conventions, but they didn't happen annually or in the same city, so you had to hope one came near you to attend it. You basically had comic book shows, western shows, and general collectible conventions that happened on a regular basis around the country. Some had a few guests from time to time, but mostly it was comic book or poster vendors and you paid a few bucks to shop. Then came Lamegoria's Weekend of Boredom: a two day show that started the "horror convention" as we know it today but could never get it even remotely correct. It was the most pathetic weekend for horror fans you could imagine, BUT, it was an early gathering place for horror fans and I made some great friends at those early Lamegoria turds that have remained great friends to this day. They've never gotten any better, so if you've attended one recently and found yourself feeling like you just visited a prison shower full of defrocked priests, then have no fear. Any and everything that creation entertainment has run, including the Lamegoria weekend of fan-fucking is by what you could judge the absolute bottom of the barrel as far as conventions go. Limited show hours with nothing to do in the evenings and if they had guests, they usually came out for an hour after they talked for fifteen or twenty minutes. Poorly run with zero to do most of the day, but these things had to start somewhere, so I'll give them that much credit. Then the Chiller Theater show in Jersey showed Lamegoria how to have some fun and keep the party going all weekend long.
For ten years, Chiller was the biggest shopping experience for horror movie fans on the planet and offered up guests that sat and met with fans all weekend long. In those glory days before "managers" and "guest reps" fucked it up for fans and raised autograph prices to ridicules levels, autographs were cheap and nobody ever bitched about shelling out five or even ten bucks depending on who it was you wanted to get an autograph from. It was even cooler that you could always spend a few minutes with your favorite celebrities. As a fan, I was in heaven.
Then you had the Fannex show in Baltimore. It too was one of the first weekend shows that catered to horror and sci-fi movie fans, but they were into having their guests do talks and sit on panels. It was a very fan friendly show that encouraged fans to ask questions at talks and enjoy film screenings all day and night. Fannex shows will always be some of my most cherished memories as a film fan in the early days of horror conventions. By the mid-to-late 90's, things started changing. It seemed that there were more and more horror conventions starting up all the time, but they were nothing more than a room full of celebrities and vendors with very little in the way of extras for your admission money. I still did them as a vendor, but started bitching about the total lack of anything fans got for their money. I paid more than the casual fan to be there so I felt cheated when there was nothing to do after they shut down the dealer's room. After listening to me gripe and complain for a few years, friends and fellow show dealers finally told me to "nut up or shut up" and run my own show so I could show them what I thought a solid fan show could be. By 1999, Lamegoria was still a giant flaming bag of shit tossed on the front porch of fandom; Chiller was slowly changing and stepping away from what it was when it started, and Fannex was having a little trouble staying a float from year to year themselves, so I figured "what the hell" and decided to go for it and run my own show. I took everything I loved about Fannex and Chiller shows, added a little of my own spin (like a weekend independent film fest within a convention setting) and signed the papers to run my first show. Now here we are, ten years and sixteen Cinema Wasteland Shows later. I've never changed my show from a celebration of Drive-In and Grindhouse movies. I just let fans find me. Since it was never about how much money I could make, I decided to just keep true to my vision as long as I didn't lose money running them.
Q: How did you go about getting guests for your first few shows? What was the most difficult aspect of "putting it all together"?
When I set out to run my first show, I sat down and started making notes as to how I could make a Cinema Wasteland show different than other cons running in the late 90's. I always enjoyed the talks and panels at the Fannex shows, so they were a must at my show. I always enjoyed catching a movie I may have never seen if a convention actually ran movies after the dealers room shut down, and I had access to a nice 16mm film collection, so films were something I wanted to offer. That turned into running midnight movies and setting up two different film rooms. As far as guests went, I never really noticed any conventions putting together any kind of reunions or celebrating a single film or type of film before, so I figured if I'm going to do this once and lose my ass, then I might as well have fun celebrating one of my favorite films. I had met a few cast members from DAWN OF THE DEAD at early Chiller shows and loved the movie, so I decided to hold the first ever DAWN OF THE DEAD reunion in the US of Dip shits... ah, Amerikkka. I had three of the four main stars of the film on board, so with the help of my buddy Chris Stavrakis, who lived in Pittsburgh, we set out to find a few people who appeared in stand out scenes from the film. By the time we were done, I had a dozen people from the movie and we had something no other convention had tried in the past to promote. Having never done this kind of thing and wanting to cram in as many films, events, and panels as humanly possible, every aspect of that first show was tough. I just sort of learned as I went along and hoped for the best. As it turned out, we had just over 1,000 paid for that first show, and I'm the only promoter I know who actually made a profit on his first convention... Even if it was less than $300 (after the weekend cost me twenty seven grand total to pay off), it was indeed a profit! LOL
Q: 16 shows later, has it gotten easier to coordinate?
Yes. In the beginning I did everything. I ran from room to room, starting movies, hosting talks, and taking care of everything that had to be done. Since then, I've delegated some authority. I have one guy (Eric Ott) who runs the film room and another (Jim Rollins) that takes care of the second screening room now.
My wife, Pam, takes care of the CW table, schedules the staff, and helps with registration. I still host the talks and panels, but I now have Art Ettinger from Ultra Violent magazine with me to help ask questions and keep things lively. And most of my staff has been with me since the beginning, so they all know their jobs. An entire Wasteland weekend has become the "Wasteland formula" after ten years, and although I still do all of the movie selecting, scheduling, guest inviting and event hosting, it's much easier now than it was those first three or four years. And of course, there are the hardcore Cinema Wasteland fans. There are no better horror movie fans in the world than a CW regular and for a show that attracts an average of 2,000 to 2,500 fans per show, we have a good 1,200 or 1,300 regulars that make one or both of our shows every year, year in and year out.
Q: What is your favorite thing to do at the expos?
I love hosting a party for 2,000+ attending fans to tell the truth. We have so many regular attendees that it's really become a weird family reunion sort of thing twice a year for me personally. I really enjoy hosting the talks and panels, but making sure the weekend schedule is packed with movies and stuff to do, all while keeping everything on schedule is by far the most rewarding thing I do all weekend. I tend to cram over 60 hours worth of programming into a three day weekend and all of it happens on time as per the schedule of events 99.9% of the time. When all is said and done, that's my favorite part of every Wasteland weekend.
Q: Which guest has come back for the most shows?
As a fan, the one thing I hate so much about horror conventions the past five or six years is the fact that I see the same guest list at 10 or 12 out of 15 shows I'll do as a vendor year in and year out - and they all want to do my show!...YIKES!... There's nothing wrong with having guests back, but what is the point in having the same people back every show? As a promoter I want to keep CW fans coming back. As a fan, I only need to see a guest once, or every once in a while to be happy, so I like to think like a fan when I schedule my shows. Back to the promoter aspect of things, I've never run the same show twice. Even when I did a second DAWN OF THE DEAD reunion, I only did it because I found so many people who weren't at the first reunion. Same thing when I ran a second TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE reunion. The cast ask me to run it five years after the first reunion, and I was able to find everyone in the cast that didn't do it the 30th anniversary reunion. It was just different enough to do again to me and just popular enough for fans to attend the show. In looking at my show sheets, I see a few guests have been with us a couple of times, but Bill Moesley leads the pack with three appearances over 16 shows. He attended the first time because he was a friend I didn't use to the point when I invited him. Then he was part of my TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE PART 2 reunion, and returned for my DEVIL'S REJECTS reunion. Other than that, I believe only a few people have been back twice as I've had great luck in finding guests that have never done this sort of thing who fit into what it is a CW show is all about.
Q: What was the weirdest thing that ever happened at one of the conventions?
We've had some weird stuff happen, like when we had Herschell Gordon Lewis on stage leading a sing-a-long of songs from his movies, but the weirdest thing to me (and a lot of people) was the night a transformer blew up and plunged the hotel into total darkness. It happened between movies and events just a few minutes before midnight and the party didn't skip a beat! It was sort of sad in the fact that management was called in. To that point they had never witnessed the drunken debauchery that is Wasteland after 10:00 pm, but in the end it was all good and everyone attending has a story to tell to this day. We might be a bunch of drunks and tattooed horror movie fans, but I won't tolerate fights or destruction to the hotel whether you're sober or drunk. Most CW attendees know this very, well so we police ourselves and just try to have a good time. Nobody wants to see it get fucked up and end, but it will whenever it gets just a little corporate for my tastes. And "corporate" is exactly what will happen if things ever get out of control.
Q: You're a big fan of horror movies... What is your favorite type of horror film? Give me three from the 70's, three from the 80's and three recent favorites....
I grew up in the drive-in's around Cleveland Ohio, so I have a fondness for late 60's and 70's drive-in movies. Everything from blaxploitation flicks to monster movies, horror films, and head-scratching exploitation wonders like LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT. I loved them all. DAWN OF THE DEAD, Lucio Fulci's ZOMBIE and PHANTASM would be a trio from the 70's that are still very near and dear to my heart. EVIL DEAD, BURIAL GROUND (Knights of Terror), and Fulci's HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY are three that pop up totally off the top of my head from the 80's, while STREET TRASH and the first NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET are right there for me as favorites from the 80's era... And... well... recently, with so many total shit remakes of middle of the road horror film turds so popular, off the top of my head, the HILLS HAVE EYES remake stands out as far as newer horror films go. SHAUN OF THE DEAD is another favorite, so I guess I have a zombie thing? I sure-as-hell know I'd rather bend over and chew my own balls off before I'm forced to watch another worthless SAW or HOSTEL film or have to view those steaming pile of TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE remakes ever again, that's for fucking sure!
Q: What would you like to do in an upcoming convention that you haven't done yet?
A few years ago, my contract with the hotel was up and I was going to stop running the show. After running twelve or more CW shows, I felt I did everything I set out to accomplish with a horror convention and I was proud of every show I ran. It's a lot of work compared to the money I'm making running it, so I figured I'd just move on to something else. Word got out that I might just end things when the contract with the hotel ended and I started hearing from a lot of regulars... and I mean a ton of them. They ask me to just keep on running things my way and they would keep coming back. They didn't want to see the show fold. I figured I did everything I set out to do but my wife, Pam, explained that what I did was create a "wasteland formula" over the years and a CW show wasn't like any other convention we attended or set up at as a vendor. When regular attending fans started saying the same thing, I knew I had to push on with the same philosophy I had since show one. As long as I was having fun running the show and the weekend didn't lose money, I'd keep on going. Now I just try to make every show different than the last show. I don't have anything in mind for any future show, but as long as I don't get lazy or complacent I'm sure my best show is still ahead of me. I'll know it when it happens. Until then, I'll be as surprised as any attending fan as to what I come up with next.
Q: I heard that you are having a ZOMBIE reunion in April.... that's very cool. Is Tisa Farrow making an appearance?
Sadly no. There isn't any way we can get Tisa to do the show as she's totally not into it. I've had more first time guests at my show than I've ever seen at any other convention outside of the Chiller Theater show and some people I've contacted just aren't into the convention thing. I can respect that so I back off and keep on looking for other people. I've contacted everyone I could find who was involved with Lucio Fulci's ZOMBIE so you can expect a few more of them to confirm in the weeks ahead. If I still have room or budget left, I'll keep on adding famous "zombies" from other zombie films to round out the list. After all, what better way is there to celebrate ten years of the Cinema Wasteland Movie and Memorabilia Expo than with a zombie themed show?.... It's something I haven't done yet, but still takes me back to the first show I ran with my DAWN OF THE DEAD reunion.